Tuesday 19th September
By Tony Waterson
Kragujevac was the site of the first SWH hospital in Serbia, headed by Dr Grace Eleanor Soltau between January and June 1915. At that time, the city was the temporary seat of the Serbian government. The hospital faced three typhus epidemics and handled up to 600 patients. Elsie later joined the staff with a team of trained nurses and nursing aides and took over the charge of the fever hospitals.
We met the mayor and as usual played the pipes and listened to speeches, and heard about the collapse of the automotive industry in the town leading to high unemployment. We visited the grave of Elizabeth Ross another SWH staff member, laid white roses and Marsali recited a McDermott poem The White Rose of Scotland.
Next came a moving encounter at the Red Cross which is now carrying on vital socially supportive work with children and the elderly. At their offices we met a large group of elderly people there for a weekly social, and played the bagpipes. Marsali followed this with the song John Anderson and much roused, they proudly and heartily sang us a traditional city song.
After hearing more of the work of the Red Cross we travelled to a memorial park on the edge of the city which commemorates a grim episode in the second world war in 1941. Partisan units had killed 10 German soldiers and in reprisal, the Germans shot 3-500 local citizens including children and their teachers from a local school. The monument is in the shape of a V which represents 5th Grade (at school).
Whilst this visit was outside our primary mission – it certainly showed up the horror of war and the dreadful atrocities which are induced in such circumstances and which are seen time after time.
2 hour drive to our next city Krusevac, where we arrived after 3 and left at 6.45 – a short visit but packed full of interest.
‘With the occupation of Serbia, the SWH hospitals in Mladenovac, Lazerovac and Valjevo had to be evacuated at short notice. The staff from the first two moved to Kragujevac where Elsie was in charge but after a few days had to move south to Krusevac. From then on, SWH divided into two groups: one joined the great retreat via Kraljevo, the other stayed in Krusevac with Elsie and Dr Hollway: despite orders from British Military Command to leave Serbia.
‘The units left at Krusevac however were the fortunate units. To them fell the honour of caring for the Serbian wounded through the first three tragic months of the foreign occupation.’
First, to a beautiful hall faced with mosaics in the town hall where there was a fine set of speeches from top officials. Then to an exhibition of materials on the SWH and a visit to the former hospital building for a tree planting. Finally to the museum for a buffet lunch and a superb display of music and dancing, with bagpipes too. This was followed by the award of prizes for an essay competition on the SWH for school children – very high quality. Then finally a tour of the museum showing Serb history and a focus on Prince Lazar.
Evening drive to Vranje and the wonderful hotel high on the hill overlooking the town. From here we could see Bulgaria, Macedonia and Kosovo –
News clips from the both city’s.